First couple days of school – reflection

This week was a very new experience for me. I am only teaching two classes – my ESL class and my English class for Grade 5; however, I am busier than I was last year. My new role has me walking many kilometers a day and thinking about things on a different level than before. I am mentally exhausted but at the same time, I am excited. I see teachers who are excited about making new lessons and activities to engage their students and fit the competencies handed down from a ministerial order now three years ago.

I also moved into a new house. I don’t love the layout or certain things about it, however, every time I get to add something new, change something or by painting something, I make it my space. One of our teachers was locked out of the school this year and had her students set up her classroom. The students decorated the room and moved things around to make it their classroom. She was so excited to share and express the change in their attitudes and the ownership the students showed. I am so excited to see how this class grows as a learning community, and I am excited to see how this teacher fosters their voice.

This is just one of the examples that I saw this week of things that made me happy to take on this job.  Seeing the circles that teacher were holding with their students, seeing our teachers look for exciting ways to make connections with their students and their curriculum and having the opportunity to talk to our all our teachers, I am excited for this year and very proud to be a part of the growth our school is going through this year.

Resource: Teaching Feedback in your Classroom

I have put together a resource for teaching the feedback process to your class thanks to requests of a few friends and colleagues. You can find it over at Ninja Plans by following this link.  Don’t forget it is a process that needs time and practice to develop fully!

Just a note: When using feedback, it is important that the students have the opportunity for receive multiple rounds of feedback from each other and from their teacher, as well as time time to implement it/improve their work before submitting it for assessment (or final feedback as my students used to call it).

Also – check out my past post about building a culture of feedback in my classroom here.

Open door policies lead to excitement for teachers

A few weeks ago, another teacher came in to see me lead an introductory activity so I decided to show her how to do a Chalk Talk which is one of my favourite thinking strategies. She had a lot of fun participating with the students and learning from them.

Yesterday, she tried it today with her french immersion Grade 4 students to introduce Math vocabulary.  She was so excited to share with me how greatly the students responded to the activity and she mentioned how great it was to see what they already know. The added benefit is that those students have an extra opportunity to think,work, write and respond in French in a new and engaging way for them.

I have always had an open door policy and everyone is welcome to join. It is even more exciting when a person seeks you out and asks for you to show them how to do something specific. In the grand scheme of things, a half hour for the students to take pride in their learning and share what they know is actually more beneficial to them to realize that teachers are learners, just like them.

What does learning and teaching look like in your school?

 

This weekend I was faced with the question of what should learning and teaching look like. While this will depend on the context of the school itself, we are given a mandate through our curriculum, the inspiring education document and a ministerial order that drives our teaching practice. We also have our own expectations placed upon us by the union through the teaching knowledges, skills and attributes.

In the grand scheme of things, we want to see kids who are:

  • engaged in meaningful learning,
  • developing skills through their learning and a classroom activities that will support them in their future lives, education, and careers,
  • able to express their knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways,
  • getting a say in their learning,
  • enjoy learning, and
  • wanting to come to school each day

The real question lies in how we get there. I have been fortunate to have been given many opportunities to look at all aspects of education from inclusion to teaching to support and even at resources. It is important that all of these areas work cohesively together and are well supported.

We also need teachers who are willing to be risk takers, allow themselves to be vulnerable and are passionate about student success. You need to love what you do and realize that the kids come first. You need to strive to make yourself uncomfortable because it is my strong belief that innovative learning begins at the end of your comfort zone. You can be a good teacher but it is that burning desire to grown and share. Ones who are willing to ensure that each student has access to what they need to succeed while being included in all that we are doing in class. The ones who see their job as more than a job. How do we get teachers to jump in with both feet?

What does learning and teaching look like in your school? It is what you think it should look like?

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Yes we have fun, but we work hard while we’re at it.

 

Today I was walking through the hall at recess and overhead one of the students saying they wanted to be in my class next year because I have cool furniture and we keep the lights off the majority of the day. The reaction my students had to this comment was pretty awesome.

“Miss A’s class is hard. It looks fun and comfortable on the outside but when you’re in it, she challenges you. We work hard. The couch is pretty cool though.”

That’s what I strive for my class to be – a challenge. It shouldn’t be hard to do, but I expect that my students work hard at their own level. Each activity is carefully designed for students to do at their own level. A student needs to make the choice if they don’t want to succeed in my class because they have the freedom to push themselves beyond where they think they can if they take the chance. The work isn’t the hard part, it’s the acceptance that you can always keep improving that is the hard part. Once they accept that, the results will show they are capable of much more that what most people expect of a 10 year old.

Collaborative Planning

Our team has made it a priority to meet regularly after school and to ask for time to plan together during the year. We create a shared agenda and I often take notes and link to our documents throughout our meeting. Here is an example of one of these documents. Collaborative Day – Grade 5 – March14, 2015

I use a shared Resource folder for my team that I share with many teachers in multiple districts outside of my school to share with them in order to make the most of our experiences and ideas. It has been a fantastic resource for us all. Here is the link to the Grade 5 Resources Google Drive folder

So many valuable things come from these days. Most recently, we have adapted a critical challenge from LearnAlberta to meet the needs of our students, then co-created with our students, the reflection and self-assessment rubric. Here is the link for this one.

Plants and Wellness in the Classroom

Today my students and I started a wellness project around caring for our basic needs and the needs of others. I was inspired by the note my student left me last week about how I created an atmosphere in the class where she felt like she belonged. This weekend when I was at teacher’s convention, I attended a session by Allan Kehler about mental health in the classroom. One of the biggest things that stuck with me as I left was that sometimes we need to put the curriculum aside and take care of the (emotional) needs of our students. I remembered reading somewhere that caring for plants in the classroom was a mood booster and taught students to care for other beings.

Originally I was very sure I was going to create a research project with a proposal out of this for Language Arts and Health but as the students interacted with the plants, I realized that they needed to just have fun and learn about the plant in their own way. Really, all they needed to know was how to care for the plant or what the plant needed to survive. The reaction of the students was priceless. They were so excited about the plants, the fact they got to name the plants and take care of the plants that they didn’t even care about the fact there was a piece of paper asking them to plan out what they wanted to learn and how they were going to do this.

One of the questions that most of the groups did answer at least was what they thought taking care of a plant will do. Between talking to the students and reading their papers, each one saw a different value to the project. Here are some of what they said:

  • I think that caring for a plant will make me want to come to school to see how it is doing and care for it because maybe my partner will not be here.
  • I think that caring for a plant will make me feel good
  • I think that caring for a plant will make me want to be early to school because it might need watering and my partner might not be at school to water it.
  • I think that caring for a plant will make it grow and make more of them so we can share them.
  • I think that caring for a plant will be so fun because I like plants and I like challenges. Plants are interesting in every way and I might learn what they eat and how they keep from dying.
  • I think that caring for a plant will give us information about the different plants and their natural habitats.
  • I think that caring for a plant will help me with responsibility.
  • I think that caring for a plant will be a little bit of a challenge because it can be a little tricky to remember when it is the next time to water the plant and when the last water of the plant was. I think it will be fun to raise a plant!
  • I think that caring for a plant will be a good way to help me relax when I am feeling stressed.
  • I think that caring for a plant will make our classroom cooler!

So what exactly is this project? Students were given a choice of plants to care for for the rest of the year. Students were then asked research the needs of of the plants and reflect on how caring for a plant might make them feel. The goal of this project is that students will be able to learn about caring for the needs of others as well as recognize the importance of caring for their own needs. We will explore what our needs are in comparison to those of the plant and reflect on the process and what they have taken away from this initiative.

And of course, here are some of the pictures from our morning!

Pride in our learning and reflecting back

I am so proud of the things we accomplish in our class. The kids work so hard to push themselves to do great things. They see success in some many ways. I sat down with a few of my students over the last few days to see what they take pride in. There were many answers but the one thing they had in common was that they were pushed and encouraged to keep going until they were they created something they wanted to share.

We do a lot of reflections in my class but my favourites are not blog posts but the videos we film and the photos we take to document the process. I think in the “birthday party” of sharing the product, we forget about the process. The process is where all the learning is and where the cool things we do happen.

Here are a few examples of our learning being shared a long the way:
Day 135 – from PSD 70’s 184 days of learning

Day 105 – from PSD 70’s 184 days of learning and our LC 5A class blog

Tile’s Blog  and  Day 78 – from PSD 70’s 124 days of learning

It is awesome to see the work we are doing being recognized and not just the product. It wasn’t easy getting the students to a point they could recognize the importance of the learning along the way. Usually that recognition comes towards the end and they look back at their reflections. This is part of the reason it is so important to have the students reflecting as they are learning and not just at the end. This year has been about getting the students comfortable with their blogs and posting about their learning.

I started out with quite structured posts. Some of my students still need a lot of support to guide their reflections through sub-topics or questions, while others can write fluidly once given the topic. A few just write what they want to write. It is great to see that we are all at different spots in our journey but the students enjoy having a chance to blog and look back at their learning. I have been trying to tie it into their reading groups and various activities that we do. Each week we write a “This Week At School” post to look back at what we have done. I’d like to get to the point students see blogging as the next step in any task they are working on as it lets them explain their learning in a different way and it helps in the assessment because I start to see why they do the things they do. I read all their posts, even their incomplete drafts.

I am excited to watch the students grow through their use of their blogs and hope that they see the same value I have in my blog. Looking back at where I was at the beginning of the year to now, it is something I find valuable to my development as a professional. My hope is that when they look back next year on what we did this year, they will feel that same pride.

Relationships in Education

Lately I have been looking at our curriculum and thinking about the curriculum redesign. This curriculum has barely changed since I was the age of my students. It was outdated at that time and very little has done to bring it to the point that it reflects the relevant skills required of our students today. It is focused on facts that are easily found by a quick google search or can be taught through a youtube video. The rate that our students consume content and media leaves the focus on skills and understanding to the side. A timely tweet from George Couros, our district principal, left me thinking about how inquiry and relationships in the classroom has changed the tone of our learning.

So much of the growth and learning in our classroom has come from the fact we trust each other and have built a community of learning, growth and support. We have laid the foundation for us to develop skills and developed a culture of fearless feedback. The relationships we have forged and work to maintain are the ones that move our learning forward. In order to learn, the students must be happy and healthy first. This comes in many ways but for a lot of students, they are with me for the most important hours of their day. It is my job to facilitate their growth as citizens in our society.

My job is not to teach content but create experiences and facilitate opportunities for them. I am there to serve their social-emotional needs as much as I am there to fulfill their educational needs. What’s best for kids needs to be the focus of my decisions as I grow as practitioner. My job is not a job so much as a dedication to making the world a better place for kids.

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Teaching from your identity

Prior to teaching, I had found my niche at the company I worked for. I was the go-to person for things and the problem solver. I was quick on my feet and I was calm with my customers. I could give and receive feedback and I knew how to use the feedback I was given.  This became who I was. It was my identity.

Teaching has been a chance to really learn who I am as a teacher. In university we were given books to read that told me many things about what my identity as a teacher. I was told that teaching was a performance and that I was to be always “on”. I was told to teach like a Pirate, a Champion, that my hair should be on fire and a variety of other things. Most of these were good books but I never could finish them. Once I got into the class and learned about who my students were and what they needed from me, I realized that none of those books were about my kids.

My students were not looking for me to be a rockstar teacher and to entertain them day in and day out. They were there to learn and I was there to facilitate that learning. They wanted me to be me and I realized that they thrive on the relationships we built out of trust. I was able to be myself – a little bit goofy and weird but fun yet calm.

My classroom left arena where I felt I was on stage and became the garageband practice where we all learned together. We made mistakes and learned from them. We improved with feedback and challenged each other to grow. We help each other and want us all to succeed at something. We work together, not against each other because we take time to connect and evaluate what is working for us and what needs to change.

I have been fortunate to learn from some of the best in a variety of industries who had similar mindsets. When something wasn’t working for us, we went and changed it. They built something new if it was missing. They tried hundreds of things before they found what worked. They embraced mistakes and realized they learned more from making them. They helped shape my identity as a teacher before I even realized it.

Teaching is about being comfortable with the unknown. Realizing it is about growing and learning who you are. Just like my students thrive on relationships, I learn from those that dare to think differently and challenge me to improve my practice. Some of those people are teachers, some are friends and some are people who just took the time to connect with me for one reason or another.

There are many times that I meet a teacher or have worked with a teacher I did not see eye to eye with on something but I have taken that chance to reflect on what they could share with me and could teach me. Professionally, those teachers are some of my favourites because they challenge me to be the person I want to me. I respect the fact that they can share their identities and their beliefs because I have learned that approaching it from the mindset of wanting to learn about them and how they do things allows me to build a relationship built on respect. Sometimes I still need to ask someone else how to best approach that person first but it is out of respect to that person’s identity and needs. The same way I ask parents about their kids, I want to learn about who a person is to respect them.

My identity shifts and changes as I experience different things but at the core of it all, it is all about relationships and being willing to grown. My needs change as well. We are always learning, growing and changing. This is who I am as a teacher and a person. By recognizing it, my students are better for it.